Gilbert White a pioneer in understanding the social-ecological nature of natural disasters died recently in Colorado. He died, in early October 2006, age 94 after a long and diverse career that centered on the impact of flooding.
White argued that ‘hard’ engineering solutions to flooding, such as dams and levees, frequently produced pathological results. His PhD research at the University of Chicago “Human adjustment to floods,” showed river engineering had increased, rather than decreased, the costs of floods, because river engineering resulted in more settlement in the floodplain, increasing vulnerability to large flood.
The Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder maintains a Gilbert White archive.
While watching the German occupation of France, I became convinced that man can no more conquer or preserve a civilization by war than he can conquer nature solely by engineering force,” Dr. White told broadcaster Edward R. Murrow for the radio program “This I Believe” in 1951.
“I found that an occupying army or a concentration camp can repress men’s basic beliefs but cannot change them. The good life, like the balance of all the complex elements of a river valley, is founded upon friendly adjustment. . . . It embraces confidence in fellowship, tolerance in outlook, humility in service and a constant search for the truth.”